“What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours,” is how the song goes, and the line could not ring more true for Saudi women.
This week we saw Saudi King Abdullah grant women the vote in an effort to not only keep the “Arab Spring” away from his Kingdom, but also to quell the the momentum the women’s movement has gained there to remove the country’s notorious driving ban.
But the King is offering too little too late. He is missing the point by responding with the right to vote. Saudi women’s demand to be allowed to drive, a ban which only exists in Saudi Arabia, goes beyond the right to simply be permitted by law to start the engine of your car.
By defying the riving ban Saudi women were demanding an overhaul of the entire system in Saudi Arabia which not only treats women as infants, but establishes and implements nothing less than gender apartheid. They are not allowed to leave the country, walk the streets of their cities, go to the doctor, own bank accounts and much more without male guardianship.
But before we get to carried away with the vote could mean for women King Abdullah has already demonstrated he was never serious about granting women more rights. Just a day after granting women the right to vote, in 2015 no less, the King sentenced a woman to flogging for challenging the driving ban. Two other women are also facing charges.
Somebody needs to break the news to Saudi Arabia, and all the men in their black and gold robes who make the rules, that they cannot keep the Arab Spring away from their doorstep. It already broke through the steel gates of the Kingdom back in May when a young woman named Manal Al-Sharif launched the now infamous online campaign mobilizing Saudi women to defy the driving ban by getting behind the wheels of their cars.
Al-Sharif demonstrated to the world that Saudi women are educated, aware of their rights and willing to fight for them. Her advocacy, and subsequent arrest, brought international condemnation and demands to remove the ban.
We have seen women at the forefront throughout the movements in the Middle East, from Iran to Egypt to Libya. Now Saudi women are joining the front lines as well. Let’s hope that despite this obvious intimidation by the Saudi King, the women keep up their fight.
I was on Russia Today earlier this week discussing my hope and belief that the women of Saudi Arabia are only getting started. Watch and let me know what you think.
By the way, must include a disclaimer for the video regarding a factual fumbles I made: Kuwaiti women got the vote in 2005. Only ten days since I gave birth, got my facts twisted!